Mentioning Christmas in Alsace, people immediately think of the capital of the region – Strasbourg! The friendly town on the Rhine has managed to preserve its architectural, cultural and religious heritage in all its glory. Strasbourg has combined the best of France and Germany and impresses at any time of the year. But at Christmas… then it transforms into the capital of Christmas (Strasbourg, capitale de Noël)!
Where is located and how to get there
The city is positioned in eastern France, right on the border with Germany. Strasbourg is the main and largest city in the region. It has its own airport, which is connected to the central part by rail. It takes 30 minutes to travel and there is a train every 20 minutes.
See car rental options in Alsace.
The nearest German airport is in Baden Baden, we flew to him. From there you can rent a car and easily reach France. Parking in the city center is limited. I recommend the huge Parking Centre-Historique-Petite-France. The multi-storey building can accommodate about 1000 cars and is perfectly located next to the central parts. The price for 24 hours is 12 euro, and for 8-9 hours we paid around 9 euro.
See places to stay in Strasbourg
The view from Barrage Vauban
Starting our tour of Strasbourg, we find ourselves in one of the most iconic places – the Barrage Vauban bridge. It was built in the 17th century for defensive purposes, acting as a barrier to water and regulating its level. It was actively used during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Today its roof is a panoramic platform that reveals one of the most recognizable and beautiful views of the Grande Île, the Petite France and its canals.
Covered bridges – Les Ponts Couverts
The River Ille flows through the center of Strasbourg and right here it is divided into four arms connected by stone bridges. They were built in the 13th century and were designed to control free access to the city. This allowed Strasbourg to set up its own customs, which led to the city’s prosperity. They used to be completely covered with wooden roofs, but over the years they have been removed. However, the bridges are still known as “covered”. Next to them rise four towers from the 14th century, left over from the former fortress walls.
The neighborhood Petite-France
This highly magnetic neighborhood, called Petite-France, once belonged to fishermen, tanners and millers. This is one of the most charming old town parts in Europe, like a movie set! Most of the houses were built in the 16th and 17th centuries and have remained intact to this day. You can wander the cobbled streets for hours and enjoy the great landscapes along the canals…
💡 Its name dates back to the distant past, and is associated with an unpleasant story about French soldiers treated for sexually transmitted diseases in the neighborhood hospital. At the time, Strasbourg was still an autonomous region, and by isolating the sick in the neighborhood, they began to call it “Little France”.
Take a walk on the bridges and pass through the green place Ma Maison des Ponts Couverts. Continue to the Quai de la Petite France to the canal to admire the beautiful reflections of the wooden houses in the water. Reach the Pont du faisan, which offers great views of the other side of the canal. Turn past the stunning façade of Le Lohkäs restaurant and the former headquarters of the tanners’ guild. You will find yourself in the small square Benjamin Zix and you can continue your walk along the promenade along the waters of the river, all the way to the Pont Saint-Martin.
Time for lunch
We arrived in town shortly before noon and were already hungry, so we had to eat something. We immediately went to the houses around the cathedral and it didn’t take us long to find the most fragrant and delicious of them. Huge sandwich with sausages, garnished with a glass of your favorite drink in cold and pre-Christmas Alsace – mulled wine (Vin Chaud).
A little more about Strasbourg
The name of the city comes from the German language and means “city of roads”. It owes its wealth to the strategic location next to one of the most important rivers in Europe – the Rhine. For many years, the region has been the scene of bloody battles for supremacy between France and Germany, but today it seems that thanks to the European Union, those times have long been forgotten. Apart from Germany, signs from Italy and Spain can also be seen on the streets of Strasbourg.
This unique mix makes it one of the capitals of Europe and houses important institutions: the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Ombudsman, the European Parliament and others. The city is also home to one of the oldest and most renowned French universities. The prosperous city is home to about 450,000 people who manage to balance their existence between two different worlds! One is modern, dynamic and sleek, and the other is medieval and simpler…
Strasbourg Cathedral – Notre-Dame de Strasbourg
One of the tallest cathedrals in the world cannot go unnoticed! It rises high above the surrounding buildings… Noticeable and beautiful! This is the second most visited cathedral in France after Notre-Dame de Paris. The work on it lasted 3 centuries and was completed in 1439. It was started in Romanesque style, so that in the end it could become one of the most beautiful Gothic creations.
💡 The material used for the construction of Strasbourg Cathedral is from the nearby Vosges Mountains and gives it a unique pink hue.
💡 Right on the square in front of the cathedral is the oldest building in Strasbourg – Maison Kammerzell. It was built in the German Renaissance style by a cheese merchant and has one of the most richly decorated facades. The base is stone and the floors up are made of wood.
The interior of the cathedral
Magnificent arches, graceful statues and many elements of the Bible are woven into the unique facade of the cathedral. But the interior is no less impressive. The huge window with a diameter of 15 meters plays a central role in him! On the glass depicts wheat ears hinting at the commercial power of Strasbourg during the Middle Ages.
💡 During the Christmas holidays, a unique exhibition of 14 tapestries telling the story of the Virgin Mary is on display in the cathedral. They were commissioned by Richelieu for the Paris Cathedral, and the one in Strasbourg acquired them in 1739.
The astronomical clock
This renaissance creation is one of the main attractions for tourists in the temple. It is a symbol of the unification of art and science. It was completed in 1571 and is considered “one of the 7 wonders of Germany”. But in 1788 its mechanism stopped working and remained only for decoration, until 1838. Then Schwilgué, a professor of mathematics who had spent about 30 years studying the mechanism of the clock, began repairing it. So in 1842 he started showing the time, the lunar phase, the position of the planets and a bunch of other things… To this day, it hasn’t stopped, and at 12:30 local time, the figures on it play a unique performance…
The ground above
You must look at the city from above! The cathedral has two terraces from which you can do it. One is 66 meters high and marks the beginning of the great tower. She takes us to the second site, which is 100 meters high. This is the end of the tower and the beginning of the spire. The view is unique… the capital of a united Europe is under our feet…
💡 Have you noticed that, unlike most cathedrals in the world, this one has only one tower? Extremely strange architectural solution that has its own logic over the years – fear of earthquakes, plague, penury and loss of interest in Gothic art are some of the reasons for the current appearance of Notre-Dame. Despite the late plans for construction of a second tower, the image of the cathedral has gained such popularity and connection with the city that almost no one wants it to change…
Tea break and something sweet
The colorful half-timbered architecture may at times be misleading that we are in Germany, but the fragrant confectioneries immediately remind us that we are in France. One such is L’atelier 116. We snuck into the small bakery to warm up and eat something delicious. We had a hot tea and tried the interesting macarons and freshly baked pie. Everything was superb, and the prices of desserts are about 3-4 euro.
The history of the Christmas market in Strasbourg
The Christmas Market in Strasbourg is the first in France, and until the 80’s the only one! It dates back to the Middle Ages. It originated as St. Nicholas Market around December 6th. Over the years, its format and location have changed many times. In the early 1990s, the municipality and hoteliers, who reported low interest from tourists in December and January, decided to work hard to promote Alsace during the Christmas holidays. The results aren’t late, and the media promotion of the area brings a huge influx of tourists. The slogan “Strasbourg, the capital of Christmas” has been introduced since 1992, and the huge Christmas tree has been located on the main square of Kleber since 1994.
We walk around the chalets
We had the pleasure to visit the 450th edition of the Christmas Market in 2019. The huge variety of chalets is scattered in different parts of the center of Strasbourg. The main one is on the square around the cathedral. Decorated wooden houses are all over the square! Most of the stands are dedicated to crafts, and in order to be part of the bazaar they need to meet serious requirements regarding the authenticity and quality of the products offered…
Някои от най-интересните места с коледни базари са:
➡ Place Gutenberg – visiting bazaar, and during our visit it was of Lebanese cuisine.
➡ Place du château – a small market right next to the cathedral.
➡ Palais Rohan – in the courtyard of Rohan Palace are positioned several chalets with delicacies from the area.
➡ Place Saint-Thomas – a favorite bazaar of the locals, right next to the old Protestant church.
➡ Place Benjamin Zix – has several craft huts.
➡ Place des Meuniers – market of local producers.
➡ Place du Temple Neuf – has mostly Christmas toys and other beautiful items.
➡ La place Broglie – the oldest market in Strasbourg.
💡 Check the working hours of the houses in advance. They usually don’t work late and close at 20:00.
At the end of the afternoon and the approach of night, Strasbourg acquires a completely different look! The Christmas mood is rising dramatically and all we need is a glass of Vin Chaud (mulled wine) to make it even more enjoyable! Magic soars everywhere in the otherwise cool French air… The decorations are more interesting, creative and captivating! Thousands of lights turn the city into a fairytale place… Here are some of the best decorated streets:
➡ Rue du Maroquin – amazing christmas street! Here are some of the most iconic decorations in the city.
➡ Rue des Tonneliers – the glowing garlands above the heads of passers-by suggest that the barrels delivered to the docks once rolled down this street to reach the restaurants in the old town.
➡ Rue des Dentelles – one of the shopping streets of Strasbourg.
➡ Rue du Bain-aux-Plantes – one of the most touristy streets in the “Petite France” district.
➡ Grand’Rue – one of the main streets in the old part of the city.
➡ Rue des Francs-Bourgeois – quite a busy street leading to the central square.
➡ Rue Mercière – the small street next to the cathedral is one of the most recognizable and photogenic in Strasbourg.
➡ Rue des Hallebardes – hidden street famous for its beautiful crystal chandeliers.
➡ Rue des Orfèvres – one of the most exquisite and well-decorated streets. Narrow, but very beautiful.
The Christmas tree at Place Kléber
All roads in Strasbourg lead to the heart of the city – the main square and the Christmas tree! Every year a tree is cut down from the nearby mountain slopes and placed in this place. The Christmas tree is decorated thematically, and the theme is different every season. In 2019, the decoration was under the motto “toys from the past” and at the green branches showed retro carts, wooden trains, rocking horses and other interesting elements. A light show and a huge ice rink complete the great Christmas atmosphere…
Dinner – Le Baeckeoffe d’Alsace
For dinner we wanted to feel the hospitality of Alsace and enjoy the typical food of the area in an authentic setting. The variety of restaurants is huge, but we stopped at Le Baeckeoffe d’Alsace. The restaurant specializes in serving the traditional dish for the region Baeckeoffe. The prices are relatively normal for the city, the menu can be viewed on the site. Baeckeoffe is an Alsatian specialty that is cooked in a clay pot and basically contains lamb, pork and beef, pre-marinated in local wine. This is one of the things you must try in the region!
For a final
We spent almost a whole day on the streets of this key European city… For the finale we had to walk through the fallen mystical fog. Strasbourg is a Christmas magic… there is a great mood everywhere and it fully justifies its slogan… Strasbourg, capitale de Noël!